Several years ago I visited the Reverend Peter Gomes, Harvard University’s chaplain and professor of Christian morals, to interview him about the way he had furnished Sparks House, the residence Harvard provides for its preacher. I was struck by the exuberance of his rooms, their voluptuous colors—golds, reds, and greens—their antiques—Yankee, French, Scottish, English—the dramatic spiral stairwell lined with wallpaper inspired by that in Gunston Hall in Virginia, the pieces of Canton and Rose Medallion that remind Reverend Gomes of the old Yankee houses in Plymouth where he did chores as a teenager. These rooms feel alive, held together by the nimble mind of this African American minister who is as hard to classify as his sense of decor. Although I know that material things are morally neutral, I was still bound to ask the Reverend Gomes how such elaborate furnishings fit with his calling. As I consider the Winter Antiques Show and its exceptional charity, the East Side House Settlement in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, I am reminded of Gomes’s answer: “I do believe that God is the author of beauty,” he told me. “It is not beauty that distracts us from God. It is beauty that affirms the presence of God.” He has much more to say on the subject, which is why I am pleased that Gomes will be the keynote speaker on January 22 at the Winter Antiques Show, where I am confident that his remarks will illuminate the whole of the antiques season in New York—from ceramics at the National Academy Museum to Americana at the Metropolitan Pavilion to the Pier shows—with a sense of the mission of things of beauty.
The January issue of Antiques is, I hope, as large and as various as a fine antiques show with almost as many surprises. It begins with an essay by the Pulitzer Prize winning historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich on Historic New England that happens also to express my sense of this magazine’s mission. People have always told stories about objects, Ulrich reminds us, but the stories we most need to hear are the ones that objects tell about us. That, in short, is our goal at Antiques.
I hope it is not stretching a point to say that this magazine might also be considered an object that tells a story about people. In our case each issue speaks about the staff that puts it together. Every paragraph and every page betrays a commitment and a craft as exacting as that in any fine piece of furniture, something virtually unique in the world of print today. From the selection of articles to the editing, research, photography, and design, the magazine speaks of the dedication of Eleanor Gustafson, Kathleen Luhrs, Cynthia Drayton, Danielle Devine, Chloe Lieske, and our art director Trip Emerson. If I am the straw that stirs the drink, as one baseball player was supposed to have said (but didn’t), it is an honor to have that role.
We also have some news: Antiques is now a partner with the American Folk Art Museum, a great institution and my favorite example of modern architecture in New York. The article here on Isaac Nuttman is the first of our collaborations in print. There will be many more. We will also bow to the necessity of the times in 2010 and reduce the frequency of our publication by combining issues in January/February, June/July, and November/December. I can say with certainty that there will be no change in the nature of our mission.